Attested:  Many Roman lead ingots, typically weighing about 80 kg, have been found around Britain, among which 16 known to the Clauss-Slaby epigraphic database are stamped with IMP VESPASIAN AUG BRIT EX ARG VEB SOC NO or something similar.

Where:  VEB probably referred to the whole Mendips lead-mining zone, not just the Roman fort (or guarded repository) at Charterhouse, Somerset, ST50405578.  Todd (1996) discussed the archaeology.  See Williams (1998) about Roman workings at another Mendip site around ST542507.

Name origin:  VEB = ‘web’.  PIE *webh- ‘to weave’ led to English web, weave, wafer, etc, with cognates in other languages.  Latin vespa ‘wasp’ (after PS/SP metathesis from *weps) was possibly related to the Emperor's name Vespasian.  Rivet & Smith drew attention to Welsh gwefr ‘amber’ and its possible relation to ancient personal names beginning Vebr- or Ουεβρ-, of which Delamarre (2007:191-2) listed eight, notably the potter Vebrullus.  Words for amber, both as a material and as a colour, are notoriously diverse among different languages, so the primary meaning of gwefr was probably fair hair.

Notes:  The word hyphae came from the Greek cognate (after its characteristic loss of W) and shows that *webh- could refer not just to regular weaving but also to irregular, anastomosing networks.  The veins of fungi offer an excellent parallel to the veins in limestone, within which lead ore reached the surface, as described here.  It is hard now to imagine an ancient Britain where valuable minerals still glinted from rocky outcrops and long thin rakes of easily accessible, weathered lead ore snaked across the landscape, easily visible from the stunted vegetation due to lead poisoning, and looking like gigantic tresses of hair.  Effects on vegetation had been recognized for thousands of years as an indicator of metal resources near the surface, notably bog iron.

You may copy this text freely, provided you acknowledge its source as, recognise that it is liable to human error, and try to offer suggestions for improvement.
Last edited 3 March 2023     To main Menu